Movie popcorn and other snacks play essential supporting roles in the theater-going experience. But many of your favorite cinema munchies could win Worst Food Oscars for their high levels of calories, fat, and salt.
No one goes to the movies expecting a salad bar, but you may be shocked to learn just how fat-loaded typical movie snacks are. Although AMC theaters announced its new healthier snack packs with items such as trail mix and bottled water, most movie offerings are decidedly less wholesome. Get ready to cringe: A medium popcorn and medium regular soda at Regal Theaters can pack as many as 1,600 calories, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a non-profit watchdog group. That’s about the amount recommended for an average woman…for an entire day!
Although many large restaurant chains and other places that sell prepared food will be required to display calorie counts under new federal regulations, movie theaters are exempt — making it even more important to get the facts before you go. Granted, an occasional movie splurge is unlikely to hurt anyone, but frequent theatergoers would be smart to seek out less sinful swaps.
Plain air-popped popcorn is actually a healthy snack: It provides a serving of whole grains and some fiber, with only 31 calories per cup. But enter the oil, in which most movie theaters pop their corn, and that “buttery” topping, and the calorie, fat, and sodium content skyrocket. A large container at Regal (20 cups!) provides a whopping 1,200 calories, 60 grams of saturated fat (the American Heart Association recommends people consume no more than 7 percent of their daily calories from saturated fat, or about 16 grams for a 2,000-calorie diet), and 980 milligrams of sodium (government guidelines recommend 2300 milligrams or less daily).
Smarter swap: Get the smallest size of popcorn offered — at Cinemark, the junior bag has 200 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 190 mg of sodium — and say no to any extra topping. Or get a medium or large popcorn, with NO butter. Even better, split the popcorn with your movie date.
Boxes of Candy
You’d never eat that much candy parked in front of your TV at home, but there’s something about those jumbo movie theater offerings, plus eating in the dark, that gives us the license to binge. But if you don’t watch serving sizes, your waistline might pay for it. Although the serving size on candy boxes is usually a modest 1 ½ ounces, typical movie-theater candy boxes contain 3 to 4 ounces. So if you eat the movie-sized 4-oz box of Reese’s Pieces, you’ll munch away 580 calories, 61 grams of sugar, and 20 grams of saturated fat. Other concession-stand favorites aren’t much better: A 3.1-ounce Sno-Caps box has 400 calories, 53 grams of sugar, and 11 grams of saturated fat, while Milk Duds pack 370 calories, 44 grams of sugar, and 8 grams of saturated fat per 3-ounce box.
Smarter swap: If you must satisfy your sweet tooth, pick something like Twizzlers or Sour Patch Kids over chocolate, which contains more fat and calories. But you still need to watch the portion size: Four pieces of Strawberry Twist Twizzlers have just 133 calories, less than 1 gram of fat, and 95 mg of sodium, while 1.5 ounces of Sour Patch Kids contain 140 calories, no fat, and 30 mg of sodium. Share the candy with a friend so you’re guaranteed not to eat the whole box.
Mega Soft Drinks
If you order a movie theater soda, you’d better be pretty thirsty. In the 1950s, an average-size fountain soda was about 7 ounces; today, a small soda from Regal Cinemas is over four times that amount, at 32 ounces, or 4 cups. A large-size soda from the same chain holds nearly 7 cups —that’s 500 calories and 33 teaspoons of sugar!
Smarter swap: Your best option is water or a small diet soda.
At Cinemark, the standard serving of 3 ounces of chips and 3.5 ounces of cheese sauce adds up to